Svadhyaya: How To Use The Practice Of Self-Study To Ease Loneliness

Photo by Magnus Lindvall via Upsplash

Photo by Magnus Lindvall via Upsplash

Amongst the Kriyas of yoga, Svadhyaya––known as self-study, is the second component.

Thinking back to my late 20’s I remember feeling lonely. I didn’t have a lot of “tools” back then to help me manage stress, so this feeling kept recurring on a loop resulting in serious health problems that lasted for years.

Loneliness rises with peaks in the late 20’s, mid 50’s, and late 80’s, according to a recent CNN article called, “Loneliness peaks at three key ages, study finds -- but wisdom may help,” The article reviews a study posted last December by the journal International Psychogeriatrics, which notes, “Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general, says the reduced life span linked to loneliness is similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

No wonder I felt horrible.

Now, looking back, I can clearly see there was a link between my loneliness and not having what neuro-psychologists call “human core needs.”

Human core needs consist of three components: connection, satisfaction and safety. I had none of these. My life in my late 20’s was the epitome of loneliness, disappointment and instability.

20 years later, I am here to share what I have experienced through yoga and its healing wisdom.

Svadhyaya is the second action, or kriya, of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras. There are three Kriyas in Yoga: Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender).

The Yoga Sutras was written over 2,000 years ago, and back then Svadhyaya usually meant the recitation and study of Indian revered texts. It also urged one to contemplate what the Sutras called “ishta devata” which translates to “one’s personal deity.”

The ishta devata is the non-dogmatic notion that basically says, pick something you can relate to, or that inspires you, and have a relationship with it. As you engage and contemplate its nature you will become more like it and will receive its grace and guidance as it moves through you.

Fast forward to 2019, where not everybody resonates with Indian revered texts or has a “personal deity” and you start to see people embracing a wider understanding of this practice, that includes any text that inspires them as well as concepts or symbols that create sacredness, love, meaning and even mystery.

On the practical day-to-day level, Svadhyaya is also about addressing the negative emotions and beliefs that don’t serve you, supporting the positive ones that do and learning methods that help calm the nervous system so you can think clearly and make better choices.

Practicing Svadhyaya is about adopting the consistent practice of engaging with and studying the knowledge that sparks, nourishes, and educates your true being.

This is what helps us access the states of being every human needs: connection, satisfaction and safety.

What you set your attention on grows and becomes your reality. The good news is that you don’t have to be held hostage during dark times, like when you are experiencing loneliness.

The CNN article also points out that “...An inverse relationship exists between loneliness and wisdom. "In other words, people who have high levels of wisdom didn't feel lonely, and vice versa," he [Dr. Dilip Jeste, senior author of the loneliness study] said.”

I wondered what Dr. Dilip Jeste meant by “wisdom.” I went digging online and found his list entitled “The 6 Sub-Components of Wisdom,” on Evidance-BasedWisdom.com. To me, they all feel like modern day Svadhyaya practices.

I intuit these items are not trivial, and in fact contain many nuanced layers of understanding. I encourage you to read this list 2-3 times slowly to see if any create a spark.

The 6 Sub-Components of Wisdom:

(1) Prosocial attitudes/behaviors: Working towards a common good

(2) Social decision making/pragmatic knowledge of life: Practical knowledge, judgement, life skills etc.

(3) Emotional homeostasis: Managing one’s emotions amidst challenging circumstances

(4) Reflection/self-understanding: Self-knowledge

(5) Value relativism/tolerance: Able to adopt multiple perspectives

(6) Acknowledgment of and dealing effectively with uncertainty/ambiguity: Effectively navigating uncertainty and the limits of knowledge.

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty,” said Mother Teresa. This may feel true, but I believe we can do something about it. For starters, inquire into your own core needs. Ask yourself…Do I feel safe? Am I connected to myself and others? Am I satisfied with my life? If the answers are not what you hoped for… you might be feeling alone.

My teacher, Paul Muller-Ortega, always says, “Make your mind your friend.” If you want to live a more harmonious life you have to face why you are hurting and be your best friend.

Below is a list of helpful Svadhyaya practices I use regularly:

  • Pick up a book or read a poem that touches your being. Find a poet, mystic, saint or sage that speaks to you and engage with them.

  • Share something that inspires you with a friend.

  • Before going to bed read something that inspires you. Let that be the last imprint on your brain before closing your eyes.

  • Take in the good. Get in the practice of not letting positive and beautiful moments pass you by. When they are happening be present and try to feel them in the body.

  • Practice noticing which experiences bring you feelings of joy, connection, and security. Cultivate these feelings by writing these experiences down in a gratitude journal.

  • RAIN - An acronym for remembering how to have compassion for yourself.

Recognize where you are hurting

Accept without shame or blame

Investigate

Nurture yourself

  • Question the nature of reality. Who are we and from where do we come? How does the heart beat all by itself? How does the fetus become a baby? What is this mathematical logic behind the universe? Is ridiculous happiness possible? What about everlasting peace? What happens after death? And is it an end or a beginning? What is love?

  • Ask yourself—can I reduce the stress I live with by half?

The Yoga Sutras say that with time, faith and practice we will discover the “open secrets” of nature—which in fact live inside each and every one of us. From this perspective how could one ever feel alone?

I believe it is worth the effort to find out.


A Yoga Unplugged collaboration - written by Jennifer Reuter, edited by Sarah Burchard